Innovation inspires Regent University’s School of Business & Leadership (SBL) students to enterprise and use their education to change the world. Those who meet on Regent’s campus and network together through the student-run group Innolab are plugging into the active and lively entrepreneurial community in Hampton Roads. On Thursday, June 9, students and others in Innolab visited Tech Center in Newport News, a new complex designed to house innovative entrepreneurs and researchers, providing them with workspace and collaborative spaces in a strategic marketplace.
Run by Regent students, but open to the community, Innolab serves as a hub to connect those with business ideas to resources that empower entrepreneurs. At Tech Center, the SBL students learned about a new opportunity that could help turn their ideas into reality when they toured Tech Center and met with director Jeff Johnson.
“He’s a big believer of networking, and he’s a power networker, going to many organizations and events,” said Tao Tang, Innolab founder who met Johnson at a networking event hosted at Parari, a business with ties to several Regent MBA graduates. “He has contact with higher-up officials within the city as well. He talks about the importance of this, is receptive, and wants to build a relationship with Regent.”
Johnson showed Tech Center’s three-component approach to fostering a work, life and entertainment hub for innovators, researchers and business creators. Already open on the 100-acre campus is a new shopping center complete with outdoor collaboration spaces. Researchers and entrepreneurs are also using space on the property to explore high-tech business ventures, and the plan is to construct a new office park and housing to attract even more start-ups and workers. It’s made possible by the WM Jordan Company, and is located near NASA Langley Research Center, Langley Air Force Base, Canon, Alion Science and Technology, C2 Technologies and Triumph Aerospace Systems. It is also well-connected with Virginia universities like Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University.
“We have the same philosophy about start-ups and entrepreneurship,” said Tang. “We want to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is friendly for start-ups so we can create a lot of jobs here. Like Jeff said, he’s researched and found that one tech job created will create five additional jobs. We really believe in the synergy of resources. He’s a great resource, Regent is a good resource, so we keep talking to each other to plan some collaborative activities that would really help the entrepreneurial community in general.”
Tang says the speed and success Tech Center has experienced within the past two years impresses him. He was intrigued to learn of the many resources available to participants at Tech Center, giving it a highly competitive advantage with other leading technology parks across the U.S. He says the model it is following, to pull these resources in the community together, reminds him of Silicon Valley.
“Who would think a Tech Center in Newport News could compete against a Tech Center in New York City for the Hadron Collider?!” said Tang. “That research power and the resources they have in this area is really incredible. That really further convinced me that it’s more important to utilize the local resources than to move to big cities to start your own business. You can start right here. We have the resources here.”
Tang sees Innolab at Regent as a source of mentorship, education, content and direction for entrepreneurs. The group is working on getting its own space to make way for hands-on prototyping. The Tech Center is an additional resource Innolab will be pointing its students to, and Tang says he could see himself there in the future.
“I think what we can do as Regent entrepreneurs is move in and take our businesses there,” said Tang. “I’ve been talking to several people about the possibilities of moving there because of the resources they have and the working space when we move in. We’d have more access to like-minded people, and more networking events. That’s one thing we can do.”
Tang is working on his own business idea to help Chinese companies expand their product offerings to the United States. He sees connections at Tech Center making this possible.